Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wild Sorrow - Sandi Ault

Wild Sorrow
Sandi Ault
Berkley Prime Crime


Shepherds from the Tanoah Pueblo report that, this winter, wolves are coming closer to their flocks. One man takes a shot at a shadow moving at the edge of his flock, wounding whatever was there. As a resource protection agent for the Bureau of Land Management and a liaison to the pueblo, Jamaica Wild takes up the hunt, following the bloody trail deep into the wilderness. Instead of a wolf, she finds a wounded and starving female mountain lion with two starving babies to feed. Before she can pursue the situation any further, weather conditions force her to shelter in an abandoned building. This place was once a boarding school for Indian children. Looking at the few remaining photos, Jamaica instantly understands that this was not a happy place.

It’s still a place of bad vibes. Looking for a place to spend the frigid night, Jamaica and her wolf, Mountain, stumble over (literally) the body of a woman. The killer also scalped the woman, then put wreaths of sage and feathers around her ankles. Once Jamaica is back within communication range, she reports her findings. It turns out that this woman, who died at age 77, was once a matron at the school. Local memories are long and many remember being sent to live at the school. She was notorious for mistreating the Indian children, even in an atmosphere that tacitly approved of such behavior.

The closed-up boarding school is some distance from the pueblo, so clearly someone went to great lengths to place the body there. They also left a note on her chest, reading, “I am not an Indian.” An act of long-repressed rage? Or someone with a very personal grudge? The truth is, there’s no shortage of suspects.

Readers who miss the novels of Tony Hillerman will be thrilled to find this author. She writes with great assurance and respect about the native peoples. She states at the outset that she blends traditions and rituals, and shades them out of respect; to maintain them as private things within the tribes. Her knowledge of (and respect for) the terrain and peoples of New Mexico shines through each scene. The information about the boarding schools is more heart breaking with the realization that real places like this existed not so very long ago.

With only a few sentences, the author immediately establishes the physical isolation of the school and the gathering storm and its impact on such an isolated place. The reactions of the animals – Mountain, her wolf, and the horse called Rooster – serve to cement the wildness of the area. The mystery is necessarily woven into the culture of the pueblo’s people and the white culture that surrounds it. Jamaica’s inner life continues to evolve, but if you’ve not read the first books (WILD INDIGO) you won’t be at a loss, since she’s a pretty straightforward narrator. For such a deep, dark subject, this is surprisingly fast read. Possibly because the language and urgency of many scenes compels the reader to keep turning pages. I’m sure there’s no way to truly understand the lives of the native peoples of our country unless you’ve lived it, but this series makes you feel that you may have walked in someone else’s shoes for a bit.

Rating: 8
March 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22583-7 (hardcover)


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